The potential price tag doesn’t seem to be a deterrent to the idea of holding run-off elections in Iowa to choose party nominees if the winner isn’t chosen during primary voting.
Under current Iowa law, if no candidate in a Primary Election gets at least 35 percent of the vote, party delegates at a convention choose their nominee for the November ballot. Representative Guy Vander Linden, a Republican from Oskaloosa, sponsored a bill last session that would have shifted to a run-off election instead.
“I didn’t like the idea of having just a very few people make the final decision and end up with a situation where they picked somebody who wasn’t even close,” says Vander Linden, who is chairman of the House State Government Committee. “Long story short, because of things like cost and what have you, I got talked out of it. ‘You know this hardly ever happens, so it’s probably not that important anyway.’ And then, lo and behold, we have one.”
None of the six Republican candidates in the third congressional district primary won at least 35 percent, so about 500 Republican delegates picked the nominee. The cost of running that convention was the responsibility of the Iowa Republican Party. Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, leads the Senate State Government Committee that would consider switching to run-off elections.
“If Iowa encourages competition through all of our other processes, especially redistricting, it would seem to me that we would favor a process that’s more democratic rather than less,” Danielson says.
It would cost counties at least half a million dollars if a primary contest for a statewide office had to be decided with a run-off election. Governor Terry Branstad says he’s open to considering a run-off system, but the cost factor must be measured.
“There’s not a simple, easy answer to this,” Branstad says, “so you have to measure the benefits you would see and the costs that would be involved.”
For Primaries and General Elections in Iowa, counties conduct voting in 1682 precincts and each precinct must be staffed with at least three poll workers. Counties pay those poll workers at least minimum wage for the 14 hours the polls are open. In addition, each county has a precinct for absentee ballots and some counties hire extra staff to count those early votes. Each county must budget for the cost of printing the ballots, too.